Why we need more women in further education

women further education

According to the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings, less than one fifth of the world’s top 200 universities are led by women. The 2016-2017 report showed that 18% of the top universities have a female leader, a slight increase on the year before, which showed 17% of universities had a woman leading. Even in further education, women are reportedly earning less than their male counterparts, and are less likely to be offered senior roles. It has also been found that just 40% of senior posts were filled by women in the FE sector, despite women making up 60% of the workforce.

The concept of the glass ceiling is still evident in this day and age, and it seems that there is still work to be done to ensure that women are being treated equally to men in the workplace, including in further education. Encouraging women to take up careers in FE can help to plug the skills gap in certain industries, as well as increase success within colleges, which we discuss here.


Female leaders can encourage schoolgirls to pursue a career in STEM

STEM subjects are still considered to be a boys club, and the number of girls taking on these subjects only falls even more once students reach further education. Last year, it was reported that female students make up less than a tenth of students studying computing at A-level, and a fifth of students studying physics. When it comes to the construction and engineering industries—which are facing an extreme skills shortage—male students outnumber women by 65 to one, and 25 to one respectively.

Last year, it was reported that 57% of teachers admitted to making “subconscious stereotypes” about boys and girls, and the lessons and careers they chose to pursue, despite girls outperforming boys in STEM across all aspects of further education. Having more female leaders in these sectors can encourage young girls to continue in the STEM industry when they get to further education. This can help dispel the stereotype that these careers are more suited for boys, increasing the number of women in the industry and plugging the skills gap.


Investment in female education is a growing opportunity

Last year, the gender pay gap across the world widened for the first time in a decade, and it was reported that it would take 217 years for women to reach economic parity. However, investing in female education can work to lessen the gap, which can only help the economy in the long run. In fact, the World Economic Forum announced that Britain could add £190 billion to its GDP by achieving gender parity, while an additional $5.3 trillion could be added to global GDP if gender equality was achieved around the world.

Companies are starting to invest in women’s education, and for International Women’s Day 2017, the Western Union Foundation announced the launch of the WU Scholars Program. The program is dedicated to the education and empowerment of students across the world, with a focus on reaching more women by pledging a minimum of 100 scholarships, totaling $250,000. Also last year, the National Lottery funded the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign in an attempt to spark and encourage girls to go for more stereotypical ‘male’ roles, and increase gender equality.


More women on boards can increase college success

Since the 1980’s, the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) has been involved in supporting and developing women in FE, especially in leadership and management roles. The number of female CEOs and principles has since risen to 48%, and there is now a 40:60 female-male ratio of board composition. However, only 33% of women make up remuneration committees, while 32% are part of search committees, and just 20% of finance committees are chaired by women.

Having a diverse board can benefit organisations and companies, due to the different perspectives and varied input. However, the WLN also found that there are barriers to joining a board that affect women more than men. Most board meetings take place in the early evenings, when childcare is a priority, which typically affects more women than men. On top of this, women tend to feel less confident, with less of an appreciation of their own skills, which causes them to avoid joining a board committee. However, the WLN is aiming to combat this with its own campaigns, which include interactive sessions designed to encourage women to take the next step in their career, whether that’s looking for a new job in FE, or moving up the ladder to a more senior role within the sector.

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